Something went wrong and you’re not sure what to do about it.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. You’ve had problems you couldn’t fix before. You’ve had other problems that seem to occur repeatedly.
What’s going wrong? Are you solving anything? Are you fixing it the wrong way?
We all have problems and we’ve all made mistakes — even if we don’t want to admit it. Sometimes we rename them “challenges” or “opportunities,” but they’re the same thing.
If you have problems that keep resurfacing, or issues that leave you at an impasse, maybe you’re not solving your problems wrong — maybe you’re solving the wrong problem.
Clients often call me to say, “We have a problem and I need to know what to do about it.” To me, that one problem raises three questions:
- What’s the immediate response to addressing the problem?
- How did this problem happen?
- What can we do to prevent it from happening again?
The answer to the first question is usually simple. You need to apologize, fix it, and move on.
The answers to the other two questions require a little more investigation and a deeper understanding about mistakes. Here’s how to get to the root of the real problem, so we can solve it permanently.
Fix the Process (Not the Person)
Before we can start solving problems permanently, we need to understand a basic truth about work, life, and humanity: mistakes happen.
They’re a normal part of life and business. In our industry, we have to be experts at fixing mistakes and solving problems. That’s what we do for a living.
Expect mistakes. Expect problems. Then, have a game plan for solving them.
The first step to resolving a problem is your immediate response. This is where we apologize, fix it, and try to move on. Most people go wrong by stopping there. You have to get past the initial fix. If you really want to solve the problem, you need to find out why it happened and take measures to prevent it from happening again.
But preventing mistakes from recurring requires us to dig deeper into the source of the problems.
Where did the failure occur?
Look for the failure in the process — not in a person.
It’s easy to look at the mistake and find the human that made the error. You think, “This guy made a mistake again. We need to do something about him.”
Don’t make it a human issue.
Everybody makes mistakes — if you never mess up, you’re not doing anything.
Be suspicious of employees who never make mistakes — that just means they’re really good at hiding them. We all make mistakes.
Maybe they are solving problems as they go? They might be management material.
Instead of blaming people, look for the failure in the process.
Most mistakes can be solved if we find the failure in the process that allowed the mistake to happen. I love processes because they keep our mistakes from causing major problems. Processes give us checks and balances. You check, then someone else double-checks.
With a good process, two people need to make a mistake before a problem surfaces.
With a better process, it takes three people.
With a great process, the entire organization should understand how things work, how orders flow through the system, and what the processes are. Then, everyone can look for fluctuations that could potentially lead to a mistake.
The Right Problem to Solve
If you want to solve your problems, make sure you’re solving the right problem: the flawed process.
In most situations, problems are not due to one person’s mistake. Don’t bandaid the issue. Go back to the fundamentals and fix the flaw in the process that led to the mistake.
What makes you good at solving problems is knowing what really causes them and then learning how to prevent them entirely.